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Nike Free Running Shoes Explained

January 3rd, 2013

Nike Free 3.0 v4, Free 4.0 v2, and Free Run 3

In the world of athletic footwear, there have been few models in recent years as iconic as the Nike Free. The first mainstream running shoe built around the idea of allowing the foot to move freely, the Nike Free was a precursor to the “minimalist” movement (it’s development got a shout out in Born to Run). The Free line also has been influential in the design of many footwear offerings today, while remaining a staple training tool for countless athletes.

What Makes the Nike Free Different?
A cornerstone of the Nike Free running shoe concept is the deep cuts (known as “sipes”) covering a grid-like pattern throughout the sole of the shoe. These sipes allow for flexible movement in almost any direction, while the platform still provides some underfoot protection. To encourage a mid- to forefoot strike, the Nike Free platforms have lower heel-to-toe offsets compared to traditional running shoes.

In the upper, the focus is on keeping structure to a minimum. A Nike Free shoe fits closer to the foot compared to a traditional running shoe, but still allows the foot to flex naturally throughout the gait cycle. Lightweight construction keeps runners from feeling weighted down.

Nike’s design intent with the Free collection is to encourage greater activation of the muscles of the foot. This in turn, according to Nike’s research, should result in a stronger and healthier foot.

What Do the Numbers Mean?
Nike Free models are delineated by numbers following the name. Somewhat confusingly, the numbers can mean one of two things – the version number of the shoe or the shoe’s position in the Free family. Bear with us a second here and all will become clear.

Any number with a decimal (x.0) in the shoe’s name is a rating of the shoe’s structure and flexibility. A 10.0 would be a traditional running shoe, and on the other end of the spectrum, 0.0 is completely barefoot. A model’s rating is stamped on the lateral rear of the platform for easy reference. A number without a decimal or with a “v” in front of it is the version number of the shoe. Here are some examples:

  • The Free 3.0 v4 is as near barefoot as the Free running collection gets, since there are no Free shoes with a 1.0 or 2.0 rating. The v4 indicates that there were three prior versions of this shoe.
  • The Free Run 3 is the third version of the Free Run model. It’s not stated in the name, but this shoe is rated as a 5.0, making it more like a traditional running shoe than the Free 3.0.

Another Naming Wrinkle
Just when you thought you were starting to figure it out, Nike wants to throw you for one more loop. The shoe currently called the Free Run was previously known as the Free 5.0. It went through four versions before the name change. The latest version of the Free Run, the Free Run 3, is being updated in April 2013. So it will be the Free Run 4, right?

Nope. Nike has decided to return to the Free 5.0 name for this shoe. And as we said, there were four prior versions of the Free 5.0. So, you’re thinking, that would make this upcoming model the Free 5.0 v5. Nice try, but wrong again. To avoid the confusion of having two fives in the name, Nike is simply calling this new model the Free 5.0, with no version number.

Summing Up
Here’s where we stand right now with the Nike Free running collection:

Which Nike Free Is Best for Me?
This depends on the type of footwear you are accustomed to and the type of running experience you want. For runners currently in a conventional shoe, the Nike Free Run 3 offers the easiest transition into the Free lineup. For runners with more experience in lower profile shoes, the Free 4.0 v2 offers a nice balance of protection and ground feel. Those seeking the lightest weight, lowest to the ground experience of the Free collection will appreciate the Free 3.0 v4, with its sock-like fit and extreme flexibility.

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Nike Free 3.0 v4 – Our Take

April 16th, 2012

Nike Free 3.0 v4 Men's Running Shoe

Our Tweet

Now lowered to a 4mm drop, the Nike Free 3.0 v4 lets your foot do its thing with an upper that hugs close but still gives you room to flex.
(View Men’s Free 3.0 v4 and Women’s Free 3.0 v4)

Big Updates

  • New Upper Tech: A seamless, ultra-thin upper material called NanoPly covers most of the stretch mesh upper, providing additional structure in key areas.
  • More Flex: Even though the v4 has tighter gaps between the siping of its platform, it improves on the flexibility of the prior Free 3.0 with the addition of a Transtarsal Flex Groove that runs the length of the shoe.
  • Lower Drop: Nike lowered the heel-to-toe drop of the Free 3.0 v4 by raising up the forefoot stack height by 3mm.

Road Test

The Free 3.0 v4 continues in the tradition of the Free series to provide outstanding flexibility that lets your foot move naturally. But don’t confuse this with a near-barefoot shoe – all of our testers reported feeling fairly separated from the ground in this Nike. That’s a benefit if you want to save your feet from the grit, grime and other hazards the roads have to offer.

The flatter platform of the Free 3.0 v4 helps mid and forefoot strikers get into their groove a little better, but since Nike did not lower the heel stack height, testers found the shoe to work just as well as prior models for heel strikers. No matter how they landed, testers appreciated the very linear progression to toe-off.

The more streamlined look of the Free 3.0 v4 carries through to the fit of the upper. The shoe doesn’t give your foot a whole lot of wiggle room. The snug fit contrasts a bit from the Free 3.0 v3, which had a more stretchy upper material that felt close but never constricting. Testers liked the look of the NanoPly overlay, but for the most part wished for a bit less structure, particularly in the forefoot at the base of the laces. The shoe also feels more anchored in place in the heel than the prior version. Overall, the fit is a good match for runners with narrow, low-volume feet.

Runners Say

“Amazingly lightweight and pretty responsive for a mid or forefoot strike.” – Lindsay

“It’s definitely not a barefoot experience, but the degree of flexibility and softness is hard to beat.” – Matt

“Imagine a sock with padding on the bottom and you have the Free 3.0 v4. The NanoPly allows varying degrees of flexibility and structure in the upper.” – Jonathan

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